Animal truly is best friend for diabetic

ALERT DOG:
Trained to detect minute changes of her master's insulin level, Wrigley attends classes with Ashly Romero, who is diabetic.

ALERT DOG: Trained to detect minute changes of her master's insulin level, Wrigley attends classes with Ashly Romero, who is diabetic.

Ashly Romero, 17, of Anderson, was diagnosed at age 4 with Type One diabetes.

Prior to diagnosis, she was tested four times with no answers. Ashly was the first child in the North State to be diagnosed with the disease.

Without a pediatric endocenologist in the area, Ashly and her parents had to travel to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento for appointments with specialists. At age 7, Ashly began using an insulin pump to help regulate her insulin level.

Ten years later, Ashly now has a diabetic alert dog that for the past four months has been her constant companion.

Her dog Wrigley, a Golden Retriever, is trained to lie next to her all the time. When Ashly's insulin levels are off, Wrigley sits up and paws Ashly to alert her that she needs to drink some juice and eat some type of carbohydrates.

Having an insulin pump also makes life a bit more normal for Ashly because she can eat what she wants to and then can adjust her insulin levels to accommodate it. Ashly also participates in the sports of volleyball and basketball cheer leading.

While she is participating in sports, Wrigley sits on the sidelines waiting patiently for her to come back to the bench. For Ashly, sports can be frustrating at times.

When Ashly's insulin level goes up or down, she has to sit on the bench and watch her teammates until her level evens out.

Principal Scott Booth and the staff at Anderson High School have been supportive of Ashly having a service dog at school.

Alert dogs for diabetes patients are common in larger cities, but not in smaller communities such as Anderson or even Redding. There are a total of five diabetic working dogs in the area. They are used primarily by students attending local schools. When Ashly first brought Wrigley to classes with her, there were a lot of questions from other students. Often, she felt obligated to answer those questions, which had her arriving late to classes.

"I would talk to people about what Wrigley does because it is better that they know that she is a working dog," said Ashly.

"After a few months, people got use to her being with me," Ashly said. "When people try and pet or play with her, I tell them, 'Please don't pet her, she is working.'"

A fully-trained diabetic alert dog costs approximately $25,000, said Ashly.

Dog trainer, Lily Grace Welch recently moved to the area to work with the kids and their dogs. Welch is also a member of California Type 1 Diabetes Support Group for Children and Adults, and is also the CEO of National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs.

Ashly and her parents decided to get a dog so that Ashly will not be alone when she goes away to college in two years. It is a comfort for Ashly and her parents since they will not be with her to help manage her diabetes.

"There are times when I have seen other diabetics have seizures because their insulin levels are off. It has instilled a fear in me, knowing that this could happen to me. Having Wrigley is a comfort knowing that I have a companion who knows if something is wrong," said Ashly. "I have embraced having a dog now, this is just how it is going to be from now on."

© 2010 Anderson Valley Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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